Winter Haven FL — In a voice mail left on Oxebridge’s phone system, SGS North American Accreditation Manager Zachary Pivarnik called a recent formal complaint issued by Oxebridge to SGS “an inquisition.” In a follow up call with Oxebridge’s VP of Operations and Founder Christopher Paris, he classified the complaint as “an attack against my company”, accused Mr. Paris of “beating a dead horse”, of calling him “a liar” and then refused to process the complaint.
Click here to hear a MP3 file of the voicemail message. (62 kb file)
Oxebridge filed a complaint with SGS on November 16th 2010, after its client showed Oxebridge a report in which an SGS auditor cited the client with a minor nonconformity for failing to implement ISO 9001:2008-specific internal audits and management reviews. Oxebridge informally reviewed the issue with another SGS auditor, who is also a member of the registrar’s review board, and the auditor urged Oxebridge to file a complaint, saying that it merited examination by SGS’s management.
In filing the complaint, Oxebridge countered that ISO, ANAB, and even SGS itself have all published documents showing that ISO 901:2008 includes no specific and new requirements, and therefore a finding written specifically against a failure to implement ISO 9001:2008 is impossible. Because the issue of ISO 9001:2008 certification had already been resolved, the complaint did not ask for a reversal of the specific finding, but instead asked SGS to conduct a systematic review of how its certification review board allowed the finding to get past its scrutiny, and to look into auditor training as a whole.
SGS did raise one valid concern, in that the complaint alleged that the client in question was already certified to ISO 9001:2008, which SGS claimed was not true. Oxebridge has since verified this as true, but the fact does not impact on the main points of the complaint.
A copy of the full complaint issued by Oxebridge, with the client information redacted, can be read here. Readers will note the complaint — written in a professional and courteous manner, per Oxebridge requirements.
Previous SGS Problems
This was the second time dubious findings by SGS were upheld by its certification review board; a similar incident happened in 2008 with another Oxebridge client, when an SGS auditor arrived unannounced and days early, in violation of the contractually agreed audit schedule. The auditor then issued a nonconformity that would not have been possible had the auditor arrived on the proper day. No formal complaint was filed, per the client’s wishes, but Oxebridge did contact a member of SGS management who refused to look into the matter and said, ” we do not question the actions of our auditors,” a statement which contradicts ISO 17021 requirements that each registrar must have a certification review board that does exactly that: reviews and ensure the validity of all auditor actions, findings and reports.
According to one SGS insider, SGS has undergone a complete management change since that date. Nevertheless, the company remains plagued with problems.
In another recent incident, an SGS auditor was discovered presenting a 90-minute “ISO 9001:2008 Training Module” to clients, despite an official Heads Up decree by ANAB indicating that registrars are “not expected to provide any specific training to clients” on the new standard. During that incident SGS auditor Robert Chickillo was reported to have used 90 minutes of what was scheduled as audit time to present his 101-slide “Training Module” which, according to the client, was not part of its contract with SGS. Furthermore, it was discovered that Mr. Chickillo had taken the presentation from rival registrar Bureau Veritas, and put his name on the document as the provider, but failed to remove the Bureau Veritas logo and file metadata when using it for SGS clients. Oxebridge contacted Bureau Veritas and was told the matter was of the highest seriousness, and that an investigation was underway as to whether Mr. Chickillo violated intellectual property law.
A Question of Objectivity
SGS’s refusal to properly process the latest Oxebridge complaint came after only 48 hours of review by SGS, a dramatically short period of time, and the hostile response by Mr. Pivarnik introduces potentially accreditation-jeopardizing violations for the certification body, worsening matters far beyond the original complaint.
In his explanation of why SGS was refusing to respond to Oxebridge, Mr. Pivarnik said that “SGS policy” prevented the company from responding to any complaint from any organization other than “a client under contract.” However, ISO 17021 rules, under which SGS is accredited, require registrars to process and respond to complaints from a variety of sources, including “interested parties” and the public. ISO 10002, a standard on complaints handling which is referenced in ISO 17021, likewise allows for other parties to submit complaints or feedback to registrars, not just contracted clients. ANAB’s own complaints process, as available on its website, allows for complaints against registrars to be issued by over 20 various sources, including “industry stakeholders”.
Mr. Pivarnik then cited SGS “client confidentiality” rules as another reason he would not respond to Oxebridge. Oxebridge reiterated that it was only providing the client information as a piece of evidence, and was not interested in resolving the matter specific to the client, but Mr. Pivarnik continued to claim confidentiality rules. However, during the conversation Mr. Pivarnik then violated his own stated rules by revealing that the client in question was not ISO 9001:2008 certified at the time of the audit, contrary to a claim made in the complaint. Despite SGS’ alleged rules, Oxebridge maintains the information is publicly available on both the client’s and SGS’ websites.
Worsening matters for SGS, the complaint was intercepted and handled personally by Mr. Pivarnik, who is also the same person whose signature appears on the ISO 9001 certificate of Oxebridge’s client. ISO 17021 clause 9.8.8 requires that:
“The decision to be communicated to the complainant shall be made by, or reviewed and approved by, individual(s) not previously involved in the subject of the complaint.”
(Click the thumbnail at right to see Mr. Pivarnik’s signature on the certificate in question; even though the certificate is publicly available, the client’s identiable information has been redacted, to accommodate SGS’ confidentiality concerns.)
In his conversation with Oxebridge, Mr. Pivarnik mentioned three times that “I am a member of TC 176” the US body responsible for authoring ISO 9001:2008. Mr. Paris — also a member of TC 176 — attempted to ensure that the complaint was not personal, nor was it intended as specific to the client referenced as evidence, but instead a call for a systemic investigation by SGS of its certification review board, but Mr. Pivarnik nevertheless treated it as a personal attack, at one point saying “you are calling me and my company a liar.”
This raises a question of objectivity, another factor mandated by ISO 17021, in that Mr. Pivarnik’s unusually hostile response could be motivated by a need to defend his own signature on the certificate mentioned in the complaint. By allowing the complaint to be processed by others within SGS, and therefore available to ANAB during SGS’ own accreditation oversight audits, a question could be raised as to how the certificate was signed by Mr. Pivarnik in the first place.
Escalating to ANAB
The final blow against SGS’ impartiality and credibility came when Mr. Paris formally requested that Mr. Pivarnik give him the contact information for SGS’ “Impartiality Committee”, a required body that each registrar must have in place to address appeals and other issues regarding registrar impartiality. In a stunning move, Mr. Pivarnik refused that request as well, saying “I am not responding to a consulting company, I am not responding to you.” This refusal may be the most serious violation of ISO 17021, which requires access to the Impartiality Committee by those requesting it.
What was a simple issue over confusion regarding ISO 9001:2008 has now become a more serious allegation against SGS, with Oxebridge anticipating a formal complaint issued to ANAB citing at least eight separate violations of ISO 17021. Serious violations of ISO 17021 can result in the revocation of accreditation by ANAB, and thus the inability of that registrar to continue to provide ISO 9001 certificates.
Updates on this story will be published here, as events unfold.